Wine aficionados in search of special labels, those who want to learn more about grapey goodness and people just hunting for a unique gathering place can all find what they’re looking for at The Wine Café, which uncorked about six months ago in Hope Mills’ Millstone Towne Centre.

A retail store and tasting room, The Wine Café offers close to 200 labels of wines and craft beers from all over the world for sale by the bottle, as well as a constantly changing selection of 12 wines at a high-tech, self-serve tasting station. At least once a month, the café holds a free wine tasting. Because they are held at different times, customers can check the business’s Facebook page or the café’s web site, www.thewinecafeus.com, to fi nd out when the next event will be.

On July 7, the store’s owners, Angie and Ray Malvave, celebrated their birthdays with a tasting of their personal favorite wines. As well as sharing the same vintage — they were born on the same day in the same year — they also have an interesting love story.

As children in Puerto Rico, Angie and Ray were middle-school sweethearts, though she says he got mad at her because she wouldn’t kiss him. Fast forward 25 years, add a Facebook reconnection, and Angela found herself in a place she never thought she’d be. Not just by moving to Cumberland County, but opening her own business.

“I always had a dream of opening my own business, but it’s hard to quit your job and start a new venture,” she said.

But it wasn’t too hard to quit her healthcare marketing job to move to this area to be with Ray, who recently retired from the military. The couple was married in December.

“When Ray was ready to retire, we could have gone anywhere, but I really like the people here, the charm of the southern thing,” she said. “In developing the concept for the store, I wanted a big-city concept in a small city with a community feel for it.”

Figuring out what that concept should be was a little harder, but, in her choice of business, like her marriage, she sees a divine hand.

“I prayed,” she said. “The same way God brought me here and put us together, he will show me the business. Then we were having wine one afternoon in the backyard — a Grenache — and then I was like, wine! Wine it is. It was out of the blue in a way, the revelation I was praying for.”

In some ways, it wasn’t too surprising. In her many work and leisure travels all over the world, she says she always went places with vineyards.07-13-11-wine-cafe.jpg

“I’ve always been a wine lover,” she said. “I consider wine like an art. The complexity of producing the wine … it amazes me how you can open a bottle of wine today, and the same vintage one year later will taste completely different.”

Taste is something to experience at The Wine Café. The café’s tasting station works with pre-paid cards, which the business loads like a debit card for a one-time fee of $3, or for free if the customer puts $30 or more on the card. The reusable, rechargeable card is put into the tasting station by the customer, who then pulls down a glass from the rack overhead and chooses a 1 ½-ounce taste, a 3-ounce half glass, or a 5-ounce full cup of wine with a push of a button.

The choice of wines in the tasting station is changed every couple of weeks. Prices vary with the selection, but recently ranged from $1.50 to $5.40 for a taste, and $5.20 to $18 for a full glass.

“The idea is for the customer to experiment with different varieties,” she said. “I can be talking about wine for a long time, but until a customer tastes it, the aromas and fl avors … it opens the mind of many customers to try things they’d never ventured to try before and expand their palate.”

The store’s wine selection is divided by new world wines (from Chile, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand and the United States) old world wines (Europe), sparkling, and sweet. Labels on the racks list tasting notes and pairing suggestions. The café also offers deli plates, cupcakes, gift baskets and can make special orders for labels that customers are looking for.

The Wine Café is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sundays from 1 to 6 p.m.; closed Tuesdays.

Photo: Angie Malvave, of The Wine Cafe, draws a sample of wine.

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